LOS ANGELES -- With dangerously low snow levels in the mountains and rain coming in just dribs and drabs a deepening California drought has prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to urge people to turn off the water while brushing teeth and not to "flush more than you have to."
A snow survey Thursday in the Sierra Nevada in Northern California found the snow water equivalent was just 12 percent of normal for this time of winter, despite a storm that dumped some new snow Thursday. The water in the northern and central Sierra snowpack provides about a third of California's water supply. Satellite photos from space show the tops of the towering peaks as brown instead of white.
A weak cold weather system limping through the state did provide a few sprinkles of rain Thursday but it amounted to only a few hundreds of an inch and "the chances of tipping any rain buckets is much closer to zero," a National Weather Service forecast said.
The system could bring perhaps an inch of snow in the higher mountains.
The chance of rain was to continue into early Friday and again on Sunday but "even the wettest models suggest a very light precipitation at best, mostly under a tenth of an inch," the forecast said.
"Make no mistake, this drought is a big wakeup call," Brown said Thursday before meeting with local water district officials in downtown Los Angeles, where a smattering of rain fell later in the day. "Hopefully it's going to rain. If it doesn't, we're going to have to act in a very strenuous way in every part of the state to get through."
"Every day this drought goes on, we're going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing," Brown said.
Brown declared a state drought emergency earlier this month and called on Californians to reduce their water usage by 20 percent.
On Thursday he offered some practical advice, including avoiding long solo showers and cutting down on toilet flushing.
State climatologist Michael Anderson said only 1.53 inches of rain were recorded from October through December, the lowest aggregate total in records dating back to 1895.
Officials say 2013 was also state's driest calendar year since records started being kept.
Southern California has been stockpiling water to deal with potential shortages but some places in the state are struggling.
State officials have said that 17 rural communities are in danger of a severe water shortage within four months. Wells are running dry or reservoirs are nearly empty in some communities. Others have long-running problems that predate the drought.
The communities range from the area covered by the tiny Lompico County Water District in Santa Cruz County to the cities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale in Sonoma County.